Karen Graham, USD 413 Cummings Award winner

Tribune staff

The late Deborah “Debbie” Cummings left a legacy for Chanute Public Schools. At the end of every school year, one employee is selected for a special district award named after her.

Karen Graham is the 2021 Cummings Award winner.

Cummings began working for USD 413 in the Hutton kitchen and eventually became the kitchen manager at Chanute Elementary. She believed in the district’s “Student’s First” motto and exemplified it in her attitude, dedication and the pride she took in feeding the students of Chanute. 

In the last year of Cummings’ career, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After a hospital stay, she went to half-days so she could still see “her kids” daily. Her final request was that her memorial funds be used to feed children with negative meal balances.

“Her dedication was very admirable and appreciated by many,” said Superintendent Kellen Adams. “That attitude was what inspired the creation of the Deborah ‘Debbie’ Cummings Award. 

“This award goes to any USD 413 employee, regardless of position, who displays the qualities that Debbie embodied while she was part of the Chanute School District family.”

The announcement was made at the employee reception.

“I was very surprised,” Graham said. “It was without notice or warning. They actually got me speechless, which was a good thing.”

She said the honor meant a lot because the award was started for Cummings’ love of children and what she could do for them.

Graham has worked at CHS since 2003 and during that time her roles have extended. She serves as is the Student Government sponsor, has worked with the National Honor Society, the school’s blood drive, Junior Prom, and organizes Ecology Day.

It’s not likely that all school secretaries take that much on.

She said when Dr. Kent Wire was principal years ago she was asked to be the student government sponsor.

Since “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she attended a camp recommended by a friend. “I learned so much and wanted to do great things at the high school.”

She sets an example for how to build relationships, and she does it with students, teachers and staff. 

Besides being a good listener and unofficial counselor, she works relentlessly behind the scenes to instill community service within the hearts of the students by creating and promoting service projects both inside the building and out in the community.

“Graham exhibits all the qualities good employees have: strong work ethic, a genuine care for students, a positive attitude, is helpful, supportive and has a desire to improve the district,” Adams said.

Graham’s being involved in a host of activities at the school makes a difference. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I found my place, my calling.”


USD 413 public relations contributed to this story.

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